He likes poetry that is “real” and “simple”. Playwright and poet Manav Kaul talks about his experiments in theatre and poetry.
“Perhaps you do not know what/your fingers are making on the thali?/But I'm watching those clouds…”
So reads a rough translation of the opening lines from a poem on the designs our fingers make on a plate after a meal. What was Manav Kaul thinking of when he wrote this seemingly ‘simple' poem, I wonder. And I'm tempted to read and know more of his poetry.
This playwright-poet from Kashmir is as understated as his words. Writing in Hindi, he has been making quiet waves with his innovative and refreshing ideas for some years now.
Born in Baramullah, Kashmir, Manav Kaul started the theatre group ‘ Aranya' in 2004. His work includes writing and directing plays such as “Shakkar ke Paanch Daane”, “Peele Scooterwala Aadmi”, “Bali Aur Shambhu”, “Ilhaam” and “Aisa Kehte Hain”. He has also designed, adapted and directed “Hakki Haarutide Nodidira” (a Kannada play by Tendulkar), “Aantaheen” (Jean Paul Sartre), and “Park” (in English).
So, what came to him first: poetry or drama? “I was doing theatre for a long time, also writing simultaneously,” explains Kaul.
Then came a brief hiatus, caused by frustration with “bad theatre”. What followed was “Shakkar ke paanch daane” in 2004 (later translated as “Five Grains of Sugar”), which he describes as “an extension of my poetry”. The play went on to become a refreshing success on the Indian theatre scene.
“I can sort-of-smile these days/I can sort-of-laugh as well/I have learned to stay alive./I see things as they seem these days/What I cannot see does not exist/It matters not to me these days./I am the neutral middle/The road that leaves home every day and returns.”(From ‘Five Grains of Sugar', published in Pratilipi)
The philosophy is unmistakable in these lines of poetry that open the play. Yet, Kaul likes poetry that is “real” and “simple”, the one that makes “you live it”. For this reason, he admires the work of Charles Bukowsky and Vinod Kumar Shukla who could write about anything, including this interview with me, explains an animated Kaul.
Nirmal Varma who “writes as though he whispers” is another writer he appreciates for the simplicity. In fact, “Red Sparrow”, Kaul's seventh play, is a tribute to all the writers he likes.
Besides writing poem-plays, he is now focussing on direction and experimenting with theatre, something he enjoys tremendously. But what does he find most pleasurable? “When I write a poem, I feel good. Three to four days go well,” he explains. And this creative process happens entirely in Hindi, as he “feels in Hindi”. However, he is always open to English translations of his works.
Perhaps the one striking quality of Kaul's work is the unique genre he has unconsciously created. Creating a poem could be as fulfilling as writing a play. One form blends into another. “A poem is a novel for me,” muses Kaul.
I see a poem constructing itself quite unobtrusively in his head, like a plot. Spontaneously. “I write for myself…I write poems when they come to me,” he confirms.
Surely, these moments of spontaneity will be countless, unlike the five grains of sugar.